1946: The year the justice system failed

In this previous post on my grandfather, Israel Halperin, I (briefly) talked about how he was arrested, charged and unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Canadian government for violating the Secrecies Act during the Gouzenko Affair.

What I didn’t share (because it was discussed in the obituary) was how he was held without charge for weeks by the RCMP and interrogated by judges who wanted to use these interviews to build a case against him. This clear violation of Habeas Corpus – in addition to the above he was also held without charge and was denied access to a lawyer – is another cautionary about how the Canadian government has a history of placing its citizens in legal limbo.

Although the trial against him collapsed it was almost certainly a defining moment in his life, sparking his work as a human rights activist. Interestingly, thanks to my uncle and the research of Sandra Martin, I have the text of the letter my grandfather wrote (via his wife) to John Bracken, the Progressive Conservative Party leader of the time. The letter, which was read in the House of Commons in 1946, describes his illegal incarceration and pleads the opposition leader to help secure his release, or give him an opportunity to face his accusers.

For those who believe that Arar was an unfortunate blip in Canada’s history, Israel Halperin’s letter offers a powerful counterpoint.

For those uninterested in PDF’s here is the letter’s text:

Dear Mr. Bracken,

Although I am not a member of your political party, I feel sure that the matter about which I am writing to you will have your most serious consideration.

Since the 15th day of February 1946, I have been held prisoner by the RCMP at their barracks in Rockcliff, Ontario by an order signed by the Minister of Justice, the Hon. Louis St. Laurent.

It may sound fantastic but I have to tell you that no charges have been laid against me and I was given to understand that my status was simply that of ‘prisoner,’ held at the pleasure of the Minister of Justice, for an indefinite period of time and with absolutely no civil or legal rights other than those specifically granted by the Minister of Justice. I still do not know which rights, if any, the Minister of Justice is granted to me.

For the past five weeks I have been held in solitary imprisonment; denied access to legal counsel and newspapers: in short, cut off from the outside world.

I have written twice to the Minister of Justice in protest against this Bastille-like imprisonment. His replies referred to some Royal commission, but made no change in the incredible situation which I find myself. They have, in effect, merely confirm that the Minister of Justice is fully aware of the conditions of my imprisonment.

If I am accused of crime or misconduct, I deny the charge. I cannot know what accusation or slander have been presented to the public by the Department of Justice, either directly or through the mouths of others. But I have the certain knowledge that there cannot be a shred of true evidence for what is completely false.

This imprisonment is a terrible injustice to me and I charge the Minister of Justice with using his authority in a way which sets a dangerous precedent, one which should alarm every Canadian citizen.

I appeal to you to raise your voice on this matter and I beg you to read this letter in the House.

If you are interested in who I am, I will tell you that I am a native-born Canadian whose occupation is that a professor of mathematics in Queens University, Kingston, Ont. I come from a family whose concern for our country was sufficient to put two sons in uniform. One of them is writing this letter; the other is at the bottom of the ocean.

Since my letters are intercepted and I am never told whether they are sent on, I would be grateful if you would trouble to acknowledge this letter, if you receive it.

Yours very sincerely,

(sgd) Israel Halperin

4 thoughts on “1946: The year the justice system failed

  1. foottothefire

    The internet with the likes of Liblogs is shattering old boys clubs such as the RCMP and all the scalp hunting they’ve done over the decades in the name of the law.
    Scalp hunting is still the path of lest resistance when it comes to reaping stature for the likes of RCMP and CSIS. However, today the Charter and law in general along with the massed voices of the common man on the internet to combine to call bullshit and help prevent things like that which happened to your grandfather.
    For those who might not believe the dangers associated with being paraded through the kangaroo court the press is only too willing to offer small minded law enforcers, take a look at the history of the many men who have been falsely accused as child pornographers. Their computers were sureptitiously taken over by slime balls trying to avoid detection and many of the falsely accused have had their lives destroyed. Several of those innocent men have committed suicide.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Your grandfathers sacrifice and determination to right wrong make him a true Canadian hero.

    Reply
  2. foottothefire

    The internet with the likes of Liblogs is shattering old boys clubs such as the RCMP and all the scalp hunting they’ve done over the decades in the name of the law.Scalp hunting is still the path of lest resistance when it comes to reaping stature for the likes of RCMP and CSIS. However, today the Charter and law in general along with the massed voices of the common man on the internet to combine to call bullshit and help prevent things like that which happened to your grandfather.For those who might not believe the dangers associated with being paraded through the kangaroo court the press is only too willing to offer small minded law enforcers, take a look at the history of the many men who have been falsely accused as child pornographers. Their computers were sureptitiously taken over by slime balls trying to avoid detection and many of the falsely accused have had their lives destroyed. Several of those innocent men have committed suicide.Thank you for sharing your story. Your grandfathers sacrifice and determination to right wrong make him a true Canadian hero.

    Reply
  3. ALo

    Thank you for sharing this excellent letter. We are all privileged to have the opportunity to read it.

    Your commentary does raise a lot of questions, though. I wonder if there are any legal historians (or historians otherwise) looking into the history of Canadians held without charge? (perhaps someone who studied the internment of Japanese Canadians?) Does anyone know?

    Reply
  4. ALo

    Thank you for sharing this excellent letter. We are all privileged to have the opportunity to read it.Your commentary does raise a lot of questions, though. I wonder if there are any legal historians (or historians otherwise) looking into the history of Canadians held without charge? (perhaps someone who studied the internment of Japanese Canadians?) Does anyone know?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.